As a dog trainer, I feel there is too much pressure on dog trainers as a whole to have the perfect dog. When it comes to our clients, we would never worry about training something an owner who we’re working with is bothered about, especially if it weren’t a lifesaving behaviour. However, when it comes to our own dogs, there’s the prevailing view that we have to have the perfect dog. Even when we take on a dog with behaviour problems, there feels pressure to address this quickly, often more quickly than is fair or reasonable. If you care enough about a behaviour your dog displays, you will find a way to fix it. If you don’t care enough about the problem on a day to day basis, remember that your dog is still your pet first and foremost, not paid advertising!
I’m putting forth the attitude that yes, dog trainers should have well behaved dogs, but they shouldn’t have well trained dogs in things they don’t care about. Dogs you’ve had problems with, that made you tear your hair out, made you feel like you were an awful trainer (we’ve all been there!), that you should go for your backup plan career (however dull and boring that seems in light of running your own business!), and that other trainers will judge you, these are the dogs that make you an amazing trainer. They are the ones who allow you to console a crying client by telling them you’ve been there, and you know how sucky it feels. They’re the dogs that make you a creative trainer because you’ve tried so much with your own dog and are able to pick and choose methods on the fly as you see a problem develop because that is what your problem dog trained you to do. This all applies no matter how big or serious the problem was. Hugely dog reactive dog? That makes you very creative! Simply cannot crack that retrieve? One day you’ll get a client who desperately needs a retrieve and has a learning method similar to your dog. Agility tunnels causing issues? Your progress through that will be a lesson in just how key those foundations are and how amazing a change in reward can be.
Your dog’s current behaviour is not a reflection of your self-worth. Dogs, like us mere humans, have bad days. Out on walks, situations can arise where previously your ‘Recovering Reactive’ dog will look like the Hound of the Baskervilles and you’ll feel as if you made no progress.
I want dog trainers and pet professionals to view their dog as their CV in a different light. It is your response to your dog that is your CV. View problems as opportunities and anecdotes to share with your clients that take you off the pedestal from perfect levels of training that are simply unachievable and untouchable and remind your clients that you’re only human and therefore having problems is okay!
When I go to other trainers for help with my dogs and their problems, I don’t want a trainer who tells me to simply teach a dog right from the beginning or that they’ve never experienced my problem so therefore can’t be of any help. I want a trainer who can see the problem developing before I notice the problem and tell me they’ve been there and that I need to do X, Y and Z to prevent the problem from starting and fix it if the problem has already developed. My trainers not having perfect dogs has always and always will benefit me far more than it benefits me had they never experienced a problem with training.
So, trainers of the world, yes your dog is your CV. Go and show the world how that dog has adjusted your attitude, problem solving ability and capacity to help your clients.